the things we wear: faith
god be with you
If youre just joining us, all fall we’ve been looking at the things Jesus calls us to wear. We’re looking at the different postures, attitudes, dispositions, and mindsets that Jesus gives us to help us be human in the way he calls us to be.
Cause that’s what this faith and spirituality is all about:
its about being particular kinds of people in the world, people connected with God, each other, and ourselves, people whose lives are bent towards justice, peace, grace, and love, people who live in a way that hums with reverence.
So we’re gathering quite the wardrobe already: we’ve looked at rest, gratitude, indignation, generosity, and hope. And today we add another thing for our proverbial closets: ‘faith.’
So to help us ask what it means to wear faith, we talk about:
2 stories, what Jesus saw, the place faith lives, and the choice we have to always make.
Let’s start with a parable …
There’s this old story about how a young man went to a wise woman to learn about life. So after lots of persistence and a few bribes, she finally agreed to teach him. She told him to go and think about this question: "what is truth?”
So the young man went and did just that and when the woman came to check he was deep in books reading everything that had been written and she yelled: “No! You’re doing it wrong. Start over!"
She came back a couple months later and the man was listening to podcasts furiously taking notes and she yelled: “No! You’re doing it wrong. Start again!"
Yet again, she came back and there was no book or podcast in sight and the man was busy writing everything he thought down and yet again she yelled: “No! You’re doing it wrong. Start over!”
A few days later the young man came to her and lamented: “Ive done away with books and listening to podcasts. Ive even stopped thinking! Im just staring at the wall in silence and all I can hear is my heart beat.” “Ah,” the wise woman replied, “you’re finally doing it right. Keep going.”
There’s another old story, this one’s from the Bible. It’s a tricky one because it’s a story about Jesus that’s not really about Jesus.
If you’re into reading these stories at home, one of the helpful things you can remember is that:
what’s outside the limelight can be just as important as what’s within it.
Whenever you’re reading stories about Jesus, pay attention to him because there’ll always be something there thats beautiful, good, and transformative, but also get into the habit of looking to his left or right and at whats happening around him. More often than not, the stuff outside of the limelight can be just as beautiful, good, and transformative, sometimes even more so.
This is one of those stories.
So we’re told that Jesus is in Capernum. It’s one of the larger hubs in the area and we’re told he’s at home.
Now this could be an actual legit home Jesus had, maybe it's a rental, it could also be just a comfortable and familiar place, it ultimately doesn’t matter. What does matter is that now that he’s back after being away things are kind of bonkers.
People have heard that he’s offering a new way of understanding the world, people have heard that he heals and restores, and so full of curiosity and hope they’ve packed themselves into that house, and they’ve all lined up waiting to get inside.
Now let's put ourselves into that story.
Let's say we’re hanging out front.
We’re waiting in line to get in, we've each got our own reason for being there, and as we wait we see 4 people coming down the street carrying someone on a stretcher. They stumble their way towards the house but instead of parking themselves at the end of the line like everybody else, they stumble their way towards the back of the house, they somehow get themselves and their buddy up onto the roof, they take the roof apart, and they lower their friend into the house.
Now as we watched that, no doubt our thoughts would be something like:
“What the hell? They just butted in line! You can’t do that! They took apart someone’s roof?! Who do these chumps think they are?!”
Anyone else with me on that? Id be thinking that.
And now let's say we're inside the house.
We're watching Jesus teach. All kinds of people are in there with us. There are even some Scribes hanging out in the corner by the hummus. Jesus is telling people about a new way of being in the world, about a new way of understanding of what it means to live with God, and we’re all having our air rearranged, it’s like our worlds are flipped upside down but in a way that makes us realize it's actually been flipped rightsize up.
But as Jesus continues to talk we feel bits of dirt fall on us, and then a bit more and a bit more, and then suddenly dirt and light are pouring in around us as the roof opens up and we see these 4 heads poke in, looking down on us.
Now as we watched that, no doubt our thoughts would be something like:
“What the hell? Who just interrupted Jesus?! Did someone take the roof apart?!”
But Jesus, he looks more curious and intrigued, and when someone on a stretcher - someone who clearly can’t walk - is lowered down to him on a stretcher his look changes to one of awe, and he says “Your sins are forgiven."
Now over in the corner by the hummus the scribes are furious at this. Jesus sees them and they yell at him, saying: “What are you doing?! You can’t do forgive sins! Only God can do that! That’s against the rules! Thats not how it works!”
But Jesus, now looking indignant, replies: “Whats easier to say: you’re forgiven or get up and walk!? Im allowed to do this, it’s part of why Im here. So my friend, get up and walk.”And the man gets up, looks at Jesus, looks at his friends up on the roof, and walks out.
It’s such a good story, isnt it?
It’s one that, if you’ve been around church for long enough, sticks around in our memory. Not only does it describe the invention of sky-lights, it’s also comical, moving, confusing, and has Jesus doing all kinds of beautiful, good, and transformative stuff.
But going back to that reminder to always look outside the limelight … if we look to Jesus’ left or right of Jesus, I think we can encounter something else beautiful, good, and transformative, and that something is what Jesus saw.
So what did Jesus see?
Yes, the crowds. Yes, the line ups. Yes, the people full of hope and desire. But the writers of this story seem quite deliberate it mentioning he saw two specific things.
First, he saw the person being lowered down to him.
But he couldn’t have seen just that, he saw the whole story behind it:
He saw 4 friends hearts break over the life of their paralyzed friend. He saw 4 friends dare to think they didn’t have to live like that. He saw the make-shift stretcher they created. He saw the sweat from carrying their friend for God knows how far. He saw them butt in line. He saw them trespass. He saw them destroy someone’s property. He saw them interrupt his talk.
But when the writers gets around to describing what exactly Jesus saw, what do they say?
"Jesus saw their faith"
So he saw the faith of the friends, but what else did he see?
He saw the Scribes.
Now the Scribes are an interesting bunch. On the one hand, the scribes were basically human printing presses. These were men who would read the religious texts over and over and write them out again and again, making copies. But on the other hand, because they were that, they were also religious authority figures; if anyone knew the scriptures, it would be these guys, so they’d regularly be brought it to say what the exact rules and laws were, saying: “This is the rule. This is how we do things. This is how it works.'
And we can see them take that role here. That’s why they are freaking out. Jesus broke the rules.
He forgave that man’s sins but the scriptures said only God can forgive sins. Never mind the fact the guy can walk now, that's not even a point the Scribes care about. All they care about is that Jesus broke the rules.
But we’re told Jesus didnt just see them furious and yelling, we're told he saw something really specific:
“Jesus saw them reasoning,” or to translate it another way, “arguing with their hearts.”
The two things Jesus saw and the two things the writers of this story are trying to get us to see are the faith of the friends and the Scribes arguing with their hearts.
Now this may seem like a bit of a silly question but “Where does faith live? Where within us is it located?”
Our tradition would say that too. All throughout the Christian and Jewish tradition, the heart is said to be where faith lives. Heart is almost synonymous with faith. We could just as easily say that Jesus saw the faith of the scribes.
If you want to have faith, our tradition says, and this is what that parable was getting at, you don’t start in your heads, you start in your heart. Faith begins and ends with our hearts.
Cause here’s the thing:
Faith isn’t belief, it isnt consent to a bunch of doctrines and dogmas, it isn’t intellectual.
Faith is trust. It’s being open to possibility, it’s being willing to go against the grain, it’s feeling the movements of Something Bigger Than Ourselves and choosing to step out into it as ridiculous and scary as it may be.
Which is important for us to hear sometimes.
It can act as this reminder which pulls us out of what we think about Jesus, God, the Bible, Worship, or whatever else, and that pushes us into how we live, move, and have our being, into how we work, into how we are in our relationships, into how we raise our kids, and into how we do life.
So if that’s faith, if thats the kind of faith we’re working with here, I wonder if this whole story is a story about the kind of hearts Jesus is saying we need to cultivate and wear.
I wonder if this story about whats happening around Jesus is basically a story that’s asking us a question:
Do we have hearts like the friends, hearts that are open, hearts that are soft, hearts that speak loudly, hearts that will us to do whats right even when its wrong, hearts that drive us to defy what is and trust in what could be,
do we have hearts like the scribes, hearts that closed, hearts that are hard, hearts that can’t shout down our reason and logic, hearts that do whats right even when its wrong, hearts that give in to doing whats written and known instead of to what could be?
And if we’re on the fence about which one the writers of this story are offering us, all we have to do is look back to the limelight and ask:
What kind of heart did Jesus have? What kind of faith did he show?
Full well knowing he’s breaking the rules, full well knowing what he’s trumping tradition, full well knowing what he’s about to do is "wrong," but full well feeling it’s the right thing to do, full well feeling this man shouldn’t have to live like this, full well feeling what those friends did is amazing and world-changing, full well feeling how God moving in that place, what did Jesus do?
Despite all the reasons not to, despite all the trouble it could get him in, despite all the rules and conventions he'd break, despite all the relationships he might sever, Jesus listened to his heart.
He was open to the idea it didn't have to be this way, he was moved to act, and because of that, he healed the paralyzed person and sent them walking home.
So again, the question this story leaves us with is:
What kind of hearts do we wear? What kind of faith do we have?
Are our our hearts hard, closed, guarded, and stuck
are they soft, open, porous, and daring?
It’s an important question for us to ask.
And not just because we’re a church and faith is kind of our thing. It’s important because this is the kind of faith that Jesus is saying draws us deeper into life as it was meant to be:
not life free from pain and struggle, but life caught up in what God is doing in this world, a life of constantly becoming, growing, and moving towards beauty, wholeness, and wonder, a life that deep, meaningful, and that hums with reverence.
The thing is, this isn’t a one stop choice. It’s an every day choice.
So I’ll leave you with the question this story is asking all of us:
Which kind of heart will you choose?